Producing a Culture of Innovation

By Robert Green Atlanta Trend
  • Oct 31, 2022

Everybody talks about innovation, but how many people really think about it deeply? Scott Sanchez, the Product Innovation Officer at Deluxe, has been immersed in innovation for over 20 years.


"Successful innovation doesn't just happen," he says. "You have to work at it. Grit and drive to succeed are important, but you also need to work on the right things. The right things are best determined by deeply engaging the customer."


Born in Puerto Rico, Scott moved to Atlanta with his family when he was six weeks old. "I still call myself an Atlanta native," he says. His father finished his military career as an officer working at Fort McPherson while his mother worked for the American Red Cross.


Scott always knew that he would be in the technology business, customer driven and focused  on innovation. "Human centered innovation," he calls it.


He received his Bachelor of Science and Engineering (BSE) from Princeton University in 1995 and was awarded National Science Foundation and AT&T Engineering Scholarships. After working for Deloitte as a consultant for three years, Scott entered Harvard Business School to work on an MBA. He was elected President of Section F as well as Chairman of the Presidents' Committee.


"An important experience for me when I was working on my MBA was my internship with Proctor & Gamble," he says. "P&G was absolutely obsessed with customers. I learned a lot about the importance of customer thinking." During another internship with Bell Labs in Norcross, Scott learned that while many innovations represent tremendous technology advances, the innovator has to always remember the bottom line. "Can you build a business around it, is the question," says Scott. "While there's always a place for pure scientific breakthroughs that can be saved for later and perhaps make money one day, I made the decision early in my career to focus on innovation that can drive real impact in the near term."


While working on his MBA, Scott read a case study on Intuit that made a big impression on him. The case study talked about how employees at Intuit would follow people home from the computer store, with their permission of course, and learn everything they could about how that customer would use their software. "It basically said that if you don't really know your customers, any attempt at innovation would  fail," he said.


Scott now wanted to work at Intuit and applied for a job with them after completing his MBA in 2000. "I moved to Silicon Valley and joined Intuit as a product manager," he says, "and I loved it." He became the Senior Product Manager for Quicken and led the redesign of the product in 2003, and the redesign is still being used today. He also launched an entire new division at Intuit called Intuit CRM, with a product called Customer Manager, which was essentially an ERP system for managing customers. "We had over 100,000 customers within the first two years," he says.


It was during his eight years at Intuit that Scott refined his thinking about relationships with customers and consumer driven innovation. "In working with my team and constantly speaking with customers, I found that I needed to be both a doer and a teacher, getting everybody to always be engaged in what we call design thinking," he says.


In 2008, Scott moved to Visa to lead innovation there. "In my first week at Visa, my boss said that he wanted me to go to the D-school at Stanford. I said, the B-school?' He said no, the new Institute of Design. When I went to the Design school to speak with them, they quickly realized that I had been doing what they were teaching - design thinking - and asked me to join their faculty," he says. "I began working with them then as a faculty member, advisor and coach. I still work with them today, teaching two seminars per year."


Scott worked at Visa as Senior Director of Global Innovation Strategy, a new role in the company, a pattern that was to continue. "With every role that I've had since Intuit, the role was a brand new role and it was often created for me,” says Scott. “I think that says a lot about how innovation is evolving more and more as a real discipline that’s needed in companies.”


While at Visa, Scott created a team to both "do" and "teach" innovation. They developed a "voice of customer" platform using online tools and immersion. He also created the first innovation lab at Visa.


In 2011, Scott was recruited to First Data to be the Head of Innovation as well as found and run the Innovation Lab in Atlanta. "It was great to get back home, and I enjoyed doing work that had a direct impact on the company," he says. Scott and his team developed eight products that helped with the company IPO. "It was the biggest IPO of 2015," he says. They also built a next generation merchant commerce suite to deliver mobile-first experiences for consumers across multiple verticals. "It was used by 14 or the world's top 20 brands, including Exxon, McDonald's, BP and others," he says. 


When first arriving at First Data, the company asked the business school at Emory to help teach innovation to its executives. By coincidence, the business school reached out to Scott for assistance with this project, because of his experience. "In a repeat of my time in Silicon Valley, after I taught the innovation module for First Data, Emory ended up asking me to join the faculty to teach innovation to executives at other companies, students and staff," he says.


While greatly enjoying his time at First Data - Scott also led the product marketing launch of Google Wallet - he was made an offer that he could not refuse in 2017.

Nationwide Insurance, the $46 billion diversified insurance Fortune 100 company, asked him to serve as their first Chief Innovation Officer.  ”The board of directors created my role and I was selected to come in to build and accelerate innovation as the company neared turning 100 years old. They set an ambitious goal and it was amazing to build a 200 plus people organization to help us achieve it” said Scott.


It was an opportunity so exciting that he just had to take it. "My job was to produce innovation at scale," he says. "Over the next eight years, I was to create 25 new digital businesses within Nationwide, ten of which would have the possibility of becoming monumental."


Based in Atlanta, Scott made frequent trips to headquarters in Columbus, Ohio and now led 13 teams instead of two. "It was a massive challenge. My goal is always to innovate "with" a company as opposed to innovating “to” the company or "for" the company," says Scott. "My team and I achieved some great things but I also discovered that the insurance business is a world of its own. In 2020, shortly after COVID hit making trips to Columbus much more challenging, Barry McCarthy, the CEO of Deluxe, called me in 2020 to discuss joining him, I was happy to talk."


Scott was interested immediately. "First, it was Barry, who I had worked with at First Data," says Scott. "Second, we crafted a very interesting role for me. Third, we would not just be working on creating some great products, but we’d be working on transforming a company with a strong history and brand name - a very interesting challenge." It also helped that Barry McCarthy had previously worked for Procter & Gamble and thus had a more than decent respect for voice of customer, as does Scott.

At the time, Deluxe clients included the Federal Reserve, 4.5 million small businesses and 4,000 financial institutions. Through its systems for customers to send and receive payments, Deluxe processed more than $2.8 trillion in annual payments.


Barry became President and CEO of the Fortune 1000 company in 2018. The more than 100-year-old company was and is the major provider of checks to banks and check writing customers across the Unites States. Though extremely profitable, and with many more digital products than most people realized, Barry became CEO of Deluxe with a mandate to transform the perception as well as the reality of Deluxe as a modern digital financial player. "From check to tech, is how he described it," says Scott.


Scott's first big job for Deluxe was to help set up the new Deluxe Innovation Center in Atlanta. "Remember, a lot of people were still in Covid lockdown, so we had that challenge," Scott says. "Our facilities team led the effort, which started in 2019, but I played a key role as we married best practices of space design with enabling collaborative innovation. It was a pleasure working with them to use design thinking to create the plan for and structure of the Atlanta office." To great fanfare, the Deluxe Innovation Center in Atlanta opened in August of 2021.


With lots of open space, the customer research lab was opened on the first floor, where cross functional teams observe customers “behind the glass” to see how their products will work in the real world. Additionally, there is space to collaborate with other employees and meet with customers via in-person meetings and virtual worldwide connections,  . Upper floors are modern, with lots of room, yet cozy and intimate at the same time. "No one has an assigned office," says Scott. "Even Barry reserves a hoteling spot when he wants one." 


"We've been very busy and we're learning a lot," Scott says. "I've led many tours of the Innovation Center and more than one person has said that they were struck by how cooperative and comfortable all "Deluxers," from top to bottom, are with each other. This derives from the trust the upper management team has for each other but the environment we have created is also a major contributor."


Since opening the center, Scott and Deluxe have been working hard on accounts receivable products and data-driven marketing, and the acquisition of First Amercian Payment Systems in 2021, greatly strengthened the small- and medium-sized business offerings. "Remember, we have more than 4 million small business clients," says Scott. His team is also constantly assisting with upgrading existing solutions like Bankers Dashboard and processes such as check ordering . "We have to help wherever we can," he says; “Our job is to partner with product teams across the company to help invent or reinvent the products.”


While Scott and Deluxe are busy working on the intricate details of new products and solutions, they are definitely making it a point to keep focused on the big picture. "First, we believe in open innovation," says Scott. "Gone are the days when one company can do it all. We are constantly working across organizational boundaries, and this is a muscle that we intend to exercise more to make strong." 


In September, Scott and Deluxe hosted ten UK startups and innovation companies to explain what they had and how they could help Deluxe. "It was well worth our time. The Department for International Trade of the UK government took applications from 70 British companies, based on criteria twe provided, and then selected the top ten companies to pitch us their business. We are following up with many of them now."


Deluxe understands an important part of developing an innovative company is to innovate 'with' the company and not for it and so is working to develop a culture where everyone innovates. "My team teaches innovation to Deluxe team members - Deluxers - so everyone can be on board. It takes buy in from everyone to succeed," he says.


•    Deluxe was named one of America’s Most Trustworthy Companies by Newsweek - Deluxe - Deluxe Named One of America’s Most Trustworthy Companies by Newsweek


•    Deluxe has delivered organic revenue growth in six consecutive quarters, something the company has not done in more than a decade


•    Payments business is on track to be the largest division of the company in 2023


Scott is happy about the success achieved thus far at Deluxe and remains as passionate as ever about innovation. He has been happily married for 19 years and has a 13 year old son and a seven year old daughter. His biggest advice to his kids and anyone else is to “keep growing your skills, especially those design thinking skills, as we need innovators everywhere!”